The Armenian authorities will strictly enforce their social distancing and hygiene rules for citizens after lifting virtually all restrictions on business activity in the country, senior government officials insisted on Friday.
They made the assurances after the Ministry of Health reported a record-high number of new coronavirus cases registered in Armenia in the past day.
The total number of cases rose by 184 to 4,044, with at least three more people dying from the virus and bringing the country’s official death toll to 52.
The figure does not include the deaths of 22 other individuals infected with COVID-19. The ministry claims that they died as a result of other, pre-existing conditions.
The daily number of new COVID-19 infections has been rising steadily since the government began easing in mid-April restrictions on people’s movements and economic activity imposed in late March. It decided on Thursday to lift the last remaining restrictions, including a ban on public transport and the closure of shopping malls and indoor cafes and restaurants, while extending a state of emergency by another month.
Critics say that the virus is continuing to spread rapidly because the authorities ended the lockdown too soon and never enforced it properly in the first place.
Justice Minister Rustam Badasian denied this while acknowledging “shortcomings” in their handling of the coronavirus crisis. “The quality of oversight measures must definitely improve,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Public transport services in Yerevan and other major urban communities will resume on Monday. The latest government rules require commuters to wear face masks and gloves and disinfect their hands with sanitizers to be placed inside all buses, minibuses and even taxis. They also limit the number of people who will be allowed to ride them.
Bus and taxi drivers must not only wear masks and gloves but also change them once in every three hours. They will also have to have their temperature measured twice a day. Drivers having a fever will not be allowed to work.
Also, starting from May 25 all people will be obliged to possess masks when walking in the streets, parks or other public spaces.
They currently must wear them when entering shops, banks and other offices. The latter are not allowed to let in any unprotected customers.
This requirement is widely flouted by business owners, their employees and customers, a fact which is fuelling skepticism about the effective enforcement of the new rules set by the government.
Badasian insisted that the authorities will take “strict measures” to ensure widespread compliance with them. “All sanctions envisaged by us -- namely, administrative and even criminal liability -- will be enforced,” he said.
“But I am also calling on citizens to voluntarily abide by all restrictions because at stake is the health and safety of everyone and the older generations in particular,” added the minister.
“The rules are strict and monitoring of the compliance with them will also be strict,” said Deputy Economy Minister Varos Simonian.